G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Chapter V
Modern Materialism
(Part 4)

It was Hegel who said that any philosophy may be reduced to empty formalism, if one confines oneself to the simple repetition of its fundamental principles. But Marx is not guilty of that sin either. He did not confine himself to repeating that the development of the productive forces lies at the basis of the entire historical progress of mankind. You will hardly find another thinker who has done so much as he to develop his fundamental propositions.

“But where precisely, where did he develop his views?” the subjectivist gentry sing, howl, appeal and thunder in various voices. “Look at Darwin, now: he’s got a book. But Marx hasn’t even got a book, and one has to reconstruct his views.”

Undoubtedly, “reconstruction” is an unpleasant and difficult business, particularly for those who have no “subjective” gifts of correctly understanding, and therefore of “reconstructing” other people’s ideas. But there’s no need for reconstruction, and the book whose absence the subjectivists lament has long ago been in existence. There are even several books, one explaining better than another the historical theory of Marx.

The first book is the history of philosophy and social science, beginning with the end of the eighteenth century. Study that interesting book (of course, it won’t be enough to read Lewes [36*]): it will show you why there appeared, why there had to appear, the theory of Marx, to what previously unanswered and unanswerable questions it provided the replies, and consequently what is its real significance.

The second book is Capital, that same Capital which you have all “read,” with which you are all “at one,” but which not one of you, dear sirs, has understood.

The third book is the history of European events beginning with 1848, i.e., with the appearance of a certain Manifesto. [37*] Give yourselves the trouble of penetrating into the contents of that vast and instructive book and tell us, in all fairness if only there is impartiality in your “subjective” fairness – did not the theory of Marx provide him with an astounding, previously unknown, capacity to foresee events? What has now become of the Utopians of reaction, stagnation, or progress who were his contemporaries? Into what putty has gone the dust into which their “ideals” were transformed at their first contact with reality? Not a trace has been left even of the dust, while what Marx said comes into effect – naturally, in broad outlines – every day, and will invariably come into effect until, at last, his ideals are fully realized.

Is not the evidence of these three books sufficient? And it seems to us that you cannot deny the existence of any of them? You will say, of course, that we are reading from them what is not written in them? Very well, say it and prove it; we await your proofs with impatience, and in order that you should not be too muddled in them, we shall for a beginning explain to you the meaning of the second book.

You recognize the economic views of Marx while denying his historical theory, you say. One must admit that this says a very great deal-namely, that you understand neither his historical theory nor his economic views. [38*]

What does the first volume of Capital discuss? It speaks, for example, of value. It says that value is a social relation of production. Do you agree to this? If not, then you are denying your own words about agreement with the economic theory of Marx. If you do, then you are admitting his historical theory, although evidently you don’t understand it.

Once you recognize that men’s own relations in production, existing independently of their will, acting behind their back, are reflected in their heads in the shape of various categories of political economy: in the shape of value, in the shape of money, in the shape of capital, and so forth, you thereby admit that on a certain economic basis there invariably arise certain ideological superstructures which correspond to its character. In that event the cause of your conversion is already three parts won, for all you have to do is to apply your “own” view (i.e., borrowed from Marx) to the analysis of ideological categories of the higher order: law, justice, morality, equality and so forth.

Or perhaps you are in agreement with Marx only. in regard to the second volume of his Capital? For there are people who “recognize Marx” only to the extent that he wrote the so-called letter to Mr. Mikhailovsky. [39*]

You don’t recognize the historical theory of Marx? Consequently, in your opinion, he was mistaken in his assessment, for example, of the events of French history from 1848 to 1851 in his newspaper, Neue Rheinische Zeitung and in the other periodicals of that time, and also in his book The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte? What a pity that you have not taken the pains to show where he was mistaken; what a pity that your views remained undeveloped, and that it is impossible even to “reconstruct” them for insufficiency of data.

You don’t recognize Marx’s historical theory? Therefore in your opinion he was mistaken in his view, for example, of the importance of the philosophical teachings of the French materialists of the eighteenth century? [40*] It is a pity that you have not, refuted Marx in this case either. Or perhaps you don’t even know where he discussed that subject? Well, in that event, we don’t want to help you out of your difficulty; after all, you must know the “literature of the subject” on which you undertook to argue; after all, many of you – to use the language of Mr. Mikhailovsky – bear the title of ordinary and extraordinary bellmen of science. True, that title did not prevent you from concerning yourselves mainly with “private” sciences: subjective sociology, subjective historiosophy, etc.

“But why did not Marx write a book which would have set forth his point of view of the entire history of mankind from ancient times to our day, and which would have examined all spheres of development: economic, juridical, religious, philosophical and so forth?”

The first characteristic of any cultivated mind consists in the ability to formulate questions, and in knowing what replies can and what cannot be required of modern science. But among the opponents of Marx this characteristic seems to be conspicuous by its absence, in spite of their extraordinary, and sometimes even ordinary quality – or maybe, by the way, just because of it. Do you really suppose that in biological literature there exists a book which has fully set forth the entire history of the animal and vegetable kingdom from the point of view of Darwin? Have a talk about this with any botanist or zoologist, and he, after first having a hearty laugh at your childish simplicity, will let you know that the presentation of all the long history of species from the point of view of Darwin is the ideal of modern science, and we do not know when it will attain that ideal. What we have discovered is the point of view which alone can give us the key to the understanding of the history of species.[66] Matters stand in exactly the same way in modern historical science.

“What is essentially the work of Darwin?” asks Mr. Mikhailovsky. “A few generalizing ideas, most intimately interconnected, which crown a whole Mont Blanc of factual material. Where is the corresponding work of Marx? It does not exist ... And not only is there no such work of Marx, but there is no such work in all Marxist literature, in spite of all its extensiveness and wide distribution ... The very foundations of economic materialism, repeated as axioms innumerable times, still remain unconnected among themselves and untested by facts, which particularly deserves attention in a theory which in principle relies upon material and tangible facts, and which arrogates to itself the title of being particularly ‘scientific’.” [67]

That the very foundations of the theory of economic materialism remain unconnected among themselves is sheer untruth. One need only read the preface to the Critique of Political Economy, to see how intimately and harmoniously they are interconnected. That these propositions have not been tested is also untrue: they have been tested with the help of an analysis of social phenomena, both in The Eighteenth Brumaire and in Capital, and moreover not at all “particularly” in the chapter on primitive accumulation, as Mr. Mikhailovsky thinks [41*], but absolutely in all the chapters, from the first to the last. If nevertheless this theory has not once been set forth in connection with “a whole Mont Blanc” of factual material, which in Mr: Mikhailovsky’s opinion distinguishes it to its disadvantage from Darwin’s theory, there’s again a misunderstanding here. With the help of the factual material making up, for example, The Origin of Species, it is chiefly the mutability of species that is demonstrated; when Darwin touches on the history of a few separate species, he does it only in passing, and only hypothetically; history might have gone this way or other, but one thing was certain – that there had been a history, and that species had varied. Now we shall ask Mr. Mikhailovsky: was it necessary for Marx to prove that mankind doesn’t stand still, that social forms change, that the views of men replace one another – in a word, was it necessary to prove the variability of this kind of phenomena? Of course it was not, although in order to prove it, it would have been easy to pile up a dozen “Mont Blancs of factual material.” What did Marx have to do? The preceding history of social science and philosophy had piled up a “whole Mont Blanc” of contradictions, which urgently demanded solution. Marx did precisely solve them with the help of a theory which, like Darwin’s theory, consists of afew generalizing ideas, most intimately connected among themselves.” When these ideas appeared, it turned out that, with their help, all the contradictions which threw previous thinkers into confusion could be resolved. Marx required, not to accumulate mountains of factual material – which had been collected by his predecessors – but to take advantage of this material, among other matter, and to begin the study of the real history of mankind from the new point of view. And this is what Marx did, turning to the study of the history of the capitalist epoch, as a result of which there appeared Capital (not to speak of monographs such as The Eighteenth Brumaire).

But in Capital, Mr. Mikhailovsky remarks, “only one historical period is discussed, and even within those limits the subject, of course, is not even approximately exhausted.” That is true. But we shall again remind Mr. Mikhailovsky that the first sign of a cultivated mind is knowledge of what demands can be made of men of learning. Marx simply could not in his research cover all historical periods, just as Darwin could not write the history of all animal and vegetable species.

“Even in respect of one historical period the subject is not exhausted, even approximately.” No, Mr. Mikhailovsky, it is not exhausted even approximately. But, in the first place, tell us what subject has been exhausted in Darwin, even “approximately.” And secondly, we shall explain to you now, how it is and why it is that the subject is not exhausted in Capital.

According to the new theory, the historical progress of humanity is determined by the development of the productive forces, leading to changes in economic relations. Therefore any historical research has to begin with studying the condition of the productive forces and the economic relations of the given country. But naturally research must not stop at this point: it has to show how the dry skeleton of economy is covered with the living flesh of social and political forms, and then – and this is the most interesting and most fascinating side of the problem – of human ideas, feelings, aspirations and ideals. The investigator receives into his hands, one may say, dead matter (here the reader will see that we have even begun to use partly the style of Mr. Kareyev), but an organism full of life has to emerge from his hands. Marx succeeded in exhausting – and that, of course, only approximately – solely questions which referred in the main to the material conditions of the period he had selected. Marx died not a very old man. But if he had lived another twenty years, he would probably still have continued (apart again from, perhaps, individual monographs) to exhaust the questions of the material conditions of the same period. And this is what makes Mr. Mikhailovsky angry. With his arms akimbo, he begins lecturing the famous thinker: “How now, brother? ... only one period ... and that not fully ... No, I can’t approve of it, I simply can’t. Why didn’t you follow Darwin’s example?” To all this subjective harangue the poor author of Capital only replies with a deep sigh and a sad admission: “Die Kunst ist lang and kurz ist unser Leben.” (“Art is long and time is fleeting!” – Ed.)

Mr. Mikhailovsky rapidly and sternly turns to the “crowd” of followers of Marx: “In that case, what have you been doing, why didn’t you support the old man, why haven’t you exhausted all the periods?” – “We hadn’t the time, Mr. Subjective Hero,” reply the followers, bowing from the waist, and cap in hand: “We had other things to think about, we were fighting against those conditions of production which lie like a crushing yoke on modern humanity. Don’t be hard on us! But, by the way, we have done something, all the same, and if you only give us time we will do still more.”

Mr. Mikhailovsky is a little mollified: “So you your-selves now see that it wasn’t fully exhausted?” “Of course, how couldn’t we but see! And it’s not fully exhausted even among the Darwinists [68], and not even in subjective sociology – and that’s a different story.”

Mention of the Darwinists arouses a new attack of irritation in our author. “What do you come pestering me with Darwin for?” he shouts. “Darwin was the passion of decent people, many professors approved of him: but who are the followers of Marx? Only workmen, and a few private bellmen of science, without diplomas from anybody.”

The dressing-down is assuming such an interesting character that willy-nilly we continue to take notice of it.

“In his book on The Origin of the Family, Engels says in passing that Marx’s Capital was ‘hushed up’ by the professional German economists, and in his book Ludwig Feuerbach remarks that the theoreticians of economic materialism ‘from the outset addressed themselves by preference to the working class, and here found the response which they neither sought nor expected from officially recognized science.’ To what extent are these facts correct, and what is their significance? First of all, to ‘hush up’ anything valuable for a long time is hardly possible even here in Russia, with all the weakness and pettiness of our scientific and literary life. All the more is it impossible in Germany with its numerous universities, its general literacy, its innumerable newspapers and sheets of every possible tendency, with the importance of the part played there not only by the printed but also the spoken word. And if a certain number of the official high priests of science in Germany did meet Capital at first in silence, this can hardly be explained. by the desire to ‘hush up’ the work of Marx. It would be more true to suppose that the motive for the silence was failure to understand it, by the side of which there rapidly grew up both warm opposition and complete respect; as a result of which the theoretical part of Capital very rapidly took an unquestionably high place in generally recognized science. Quite different has been the fate of economic materialism as a historical theory, including also those prospects in the direction of the future which are contained in Capital, Economic materialism, in spite of its half-century of existence, has not exercised up to the present any noticeable influence in the sphere of learning, but is really spreading very rapidly in the working class.” [69]

Thus, after a short silence, an opposition rapidly grew up. That is so. To such an extent is it a warm opposition, that not a single lecturer will receive the title of professor if he declares that even the “economic” theory of Marx is correct. To such an extent is it a warm opposition that any crammer, even the least talented, can reckon on rapid promotion if he only succeeds in inventing even a couple of objections to Capital which will be forgotten by everybody the next day. Yes, it must be admitted – a very warm opposition.

And complete respect ... That’s true also, Mr. Mikhailovsky, it is really respect. Exactly the same kind of respect with which the Chinese must now be looking at the Japanese army: they fight well, and it’s most unpleasant to come under their blows. With such respect for the author of Capital the German professors were and still remain filled, up to the present day. And the cleverer the professor, the more knowledge he has, the more respect he has-because all the more clearly does he realize that he stands no chance of refuting Capital. That is why not a single one of the leading lights of official science ventures to attack Capital. The leading lights prefer to send into battle the young, inexperienced “private bellmen” who want promotion.

No use to waste a clever lad,
You just send along Read
And I’ll wait and see.

Well, what can you say: great is respect of that kind. But we haven’t heard of any other kind of respect, and there can be none in any professor – because they don’t make a man a professor in Germany who is filled with it.

But what does this respect show? It shows the following. The field of research covered by Capital is precisely that which has already been worked over from the new point of view, from the point of view of the historical theory of Marx. That’s why adversaries don’t dare to attack that field: they “respect it.” And that, of course, is very sensible of the adversaries. But one needs to have all the simplicity of a “subjective” sociologist to ask with surprise why these adversaries don’t up to this day set about cultivating the neighbouring fields with their own forces, in the spirit of Marx. “That’s a tall order, my dear hero! Even the one field worked over in this spirit gives us no rest! Even with that we don’t know where to turn for trouble – and you want us to cultivate the neighbouring fields as well in the same system?!” Mr. Mikhailovsky is a bad judge of the inner essence of things, and therefore he doesn’t understand “the destinies of economic materialism as a historical theory,” or the attitude of the German professors to “prospects of the future” either. They haven’t time to think about the future, sir, when the present is slipping from under their feet.

But after all, surely not all the professors in Germany are to such an extent saturated with the spirit of class struggle and “scientific” discipline? Surely there must be specialists who think of nothing else but science? Of course there must be, and there are naturally such men, and not only in Germany. But these specialists – precisely because they are specialists – are entirely absorbed in their subject; they are cultivating their own little plot in the scientific field, and take no interest in any general philosophical and historical theories. Such specialists have rarely any idea of Marx, and if they have, it’s usually of some unpleasant person who worried someone, somewhere. How do you expect them to write in the spirit of Marx? Their monographs usually contain absolutely no spirit of philosophy. But here there takes place something similar to those cases when stones cry out, if men are silent. The specialist research workers themselves know nothing about the theory of Marx; but the results they have secured shout loudly in its favour. And there is not a single serious specialist piece of research in the history of political relations, or in the history of culture, which does not confirm that theory in one way or another. There are a number of astonishing examples which demonstrate to what great extent the whole spirit of modern social science obliges the specialist unconsciously to adopt the point of view of the historical theory of Marx (precisely the historical theory, Mr. Mikhailovsky). The reader saw earlier two examples of this kind – Oscar Peschel and Giraud-Teulon. Now let us give a third. In his work: La Cité Antique, the famous Fustel de Coulanges expressed the idea that religious views lay at the bottom of all the social institutions of antiquity. It would seem that he ought to have stuck to this idea in studying individual questions of the history of Greece and Rome. But Fustel de Coulanges had to touch on the question of the fall of Sparta; and it turned out that, according to him, the reason for the fall was purely economic. [70] He had occasion to touch on the question of the fall of the Roman Republic: and once again he turned to economics. [71] What conclusion can we draw? In particular cases the man confirmed the theory of Marx: but if you were to call him a Marxist, he would probably begin waving both his arms in protest, which would have given untold pleasure to Mr. Kareyev. But what would you have, if not everybody is consistent to the bitter end?

But, interrupts Mr. Mikhailovsky, allow me also to quote some examples.

“Turning ... to ... the work of Blos [43*], we see that this is a very worthy work which, however, bears no special signs of a radical revolution in historical science. From what Blos says about the class struggle and economic conditions (comparatively very little) it does not yet follow that he builds his history on the self-development of the forms of production and exchange: it would be even difficult to avoid mentioning economic conditions in telling the story of the events of 1848. Strike out of the book of Blos his panegyrics of Marx, as the creator of a revolution in historical science, and a few hackneyed phrases in Marxist terminology, and you would not even imagine that you were dealing with a follower of economic materialism. Individual good pages of historical content in the works of Engels, Kautsky and some others could also do without the label of economic materialism, as in practice they take into ac-count the whole totality of social life, even though the economic string may prevail in this chord.” [72]

Mr. Mikhailovsky evidently keeps firmly before him the proverb: “You called yourself a mushroom, now get into the basket.” He argues in this way: if you are an economic materialist, that means that you must keep your eyes fixed on the economic, and not deal with “the whole totality of social life, even though the economic string may prevail in this chord.” But we have already reported to Mr. Mikhailovsky that the scientific task of the Marxist lies precisely in this: having begun with the “string,” he must explain the whole totality of social life. How can he expect them, in that case, to renounce this task and to remain Marxists at one and the same time? Of course, Mr. Mikhailovsky has never wanted to think seriously about the meaning of the task in question: but naturally that is not the fault of the historical theory of Marx.

We quite understand that, so long as we don’t renounce that task, Mr. Mikhailovsky will often fall into a very difficult position: often, when reading “a good page of historical content” he will be very far from thinking (“you wouldn’t even imagine”) that it has been writ ten by an “economic” materialist. That’s what they call “landing in a mess”! But is it Marx who is to blame that Mr. Mikhailovsky will find himself so placed?

The Achilles of the subjective school imagines that “economic” materialists must only talk about “the self-development of the forms of production and exchange,” What sort of a thing is that “self-development,” oh profound Mr. Mikhailovsky? If you imagine that, in the opinion of Marx, the forms of production can develop “of themselves,” you are cruelly mistaken. What are the social relations of production? They are relations between men. How can they develop, then, without men? If there were no men, surely there would be no relations of production! The chemist says: matter consists of atoms which are grouped in molecules, and the molecules are grouped in more complex combinations. All chemical processes take place according to definite laws. From this you unexpectedly conclude that, in the chemist’s opinion; it’s all a question of laws, that matter – atoms and molecules – needn’t move at all, and that this wouldn’t in the least prevent the “self-development” of chemical combinations. Everyone would see the stupidity of such a con-elusion. Unfortunately, not everyone yet sees the stupidity of an exactly similar (so far as its internal value is concerned) contrasting of individuals to the laws of social life, and of the activity of men to the internal logic of the forms in which they live together.

We repeat, Mr. Mikhailovsky, that the task of the new historical theory consists in explaining “the whole totality of social life” by what you call the economic string, i.e., in reality the development of productive forces. The “string” is in a certain sense the basis (we have already explained in what particular sense) but in vain does Mr. Mikhailovsky think that the Marxist “breathes only with the string,” like one of the characters in G.I. Uspensky’s The Sentry Post. [44*]

It’s difficult job to explain the entire historical process, keeping consistently to one principle. But what would you have? Science generally is not an easy job, providing only it’s not “subjective” science: in that, all questions are explained with amazing ease. And since we have mentioned it, we shall tell Mr. Mikhailovsky that it is possible that in questions affecting the development of ideology, even those best acquainted with the “string” will sometimes prove powerless if they don’t possess a certain particular gift, namely artistic feeling. Psychology adapts itself to economy. But this adaptation is a complex process, and in order to understand its whole course and vividly to represent it to oneself and to others, as it actually takes place, more than once the talent of, the artist will be needed. For example, Balzac has already done a great deal to explain the psychology of various classes in the society in which he lived. [45*] We can learn a lot from Ibsen too, and from not a few more. Let’s hope that in time there will appear many such artists, who will understand on the one hand the “iron laws” of movement of the “string,” and on the other will be able to understand and to show how, on the “string” and precisely thanks to its movement, there grows up the “garment of Lifeof ideology. You will say that where poetical fantasy has crept in there cannot but occur the whim of the artist, the guesswork of fantasy. Of course, that is so: that will happen too. And Marx knew it very well: that is just why he says that we have strictly to distinguish between the economic condition of a given epoch, which can be determined with the exactness of natural science, and the condition of its ideas. Much, very much is still obscure for us in this sphere. But there is even more that is obscure for the idealists, and. yet more for eclectics, who have never understood the significance of the difficulties they encounter, imagining that they will always be able to settle any question with the help of their notorious “interaction.” In reality, they never settle anything, but only hide behind the back of the difficulties they encounter. Hitherto, in the words of Marx, concrete human activity has been explained solely from the idealist point of view. Well, and what happened? Did they find many satisfactory explanations? Our judgements on the activity of the human “spirit” lack firm foundation and remind one of the judgements on nature pronounced by the ancient Greek philosophers: at best we have hypotheses of genius, sometimes merely ingenious suppositions, which, however, it is impossible to confirm or prove, for lack of any fulcrum of scientific proof. Something was achieved only in those cases where they were forced to connect social psychology with the “string.” And yet, when Marx noticed this, and recommended that the attempts which had begun should not be abandoned, and said that we must always be guided by the “string,” he was accused of one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness! If there is any justice in this, it is only the subjective sociologist, possibly, who knows where it is.

Yes, you can talk, Mr. Mikhailovsky sarcastically continues: your new discovery “was made fifty years ago.” Yes, Mr. Mikhailovsky, about that time? And all the more regrettable that you have still failed” to understand it. Are there not many such “discoveries” in science, made tens and hundreds of years ago, but still remaining unknown to millions of “personalities” carefree in respect of science? Imagine that you have met a Hottentot and are trying to convince him that the earth revolves around the sun. The Hottentot has his own “original” theory, both about the sun and about the earth. It is difficult for him to part with his theory. And so he begins to be sarcastic: you come to me with your new discoveries, and yet you yourself say that it’s several hundred years old! What will the Hottentot’s sarcasm prove? Only that the Hottentot is a Hottentot. But then that did not need to be proved.

However, Mr. Mikhailovsky’s sarcasm proves a great deal more than would be proved by the sarcasm of a Hottentot. It proves that our “sociologist” belongs to the category of people who forget their kinship. His subjective point of view has been inherited from Bruno Bauer, Szeliga and other predecessors of Marx in the chronological sense. Consequently, Mr. Mikhailovsky’s “discovery” is in any case a bit older than ours, even chronologically, while in its internal content it is much older, because the historical idealism of Bruno Bauer was a return to the views of the materialists of last century. [73]

Mr. Mikhailovsky is very worried because the book of the American Morgan on “ancient society” appeared many years after Marx and Engels had advanced the fundamental principles of economic materialism [47*], and quite “independently of it.” To this we shall observe:

In the first place, Morgan’s book is not “independent” of so-called economic materialism for the simple reason that Morgan himself adopts that viewpoint, as Mr. Mikhailovsky will easily see for himself if he reads the book to which he refers. True, Morgan arrived at the viewpoint of economic materialism independently of Marx and Engels, but that’s all the better for their theory.

Secondly, what’s wrong if the. theory of Marx and Engels was “many years later” confirmed by the discoveries of Morgan? We are convinced that there will yet be very many discoveries confirming that theory. As to Mr. Mikhailovsky, on the other hand, we are convinced of the contrary: not a single discovery will justify the “subjective” point of view, either in five years or in five thousand.

From one of Engels’s prefaces [48*] Mr. Mikhailovsky has learned that the knowledge of the author of the Condition of the Working Class in England, and of his friend Marx, in the sphere of economic history was in the 40s “inadequate” (the expression of Engels himself). Mr. Mikhailovsky skips and jumps on this subject: so you see, the entire theory of “economic materialism,” which arose precisely in the 40s, was built on an inadequate foundation. This is a conclusion worthy of a witty fourth form schoolboy. A grown-up person would understand that, in their application to scientific knowledge as to everything else, the expressions “adequate,” “inadequate,” “little,” “big” must be taken in their relative sense. After the fundamental principles of the new historical theory had been proclaimed Marx and Engels went on living for several decades. They zealously studied economic history, and achieved vast successes in that sphere, which is particularly easy. to understand in view of their unusual capacity. Thanks to these successes, their former information must have seemed to them “inadequate” but this does not yet prove that their theory was unfounded. Darwin’s book on the origin of species appeared in 1859. One can say with certainty that, ten years later, Darwin already thought inadequate the knowledge which he possessed when his book was published. But what does that matter?

Mr. Mikhailovsky displays not a little irony also on the theme that “for the theory which claimed to throw light on world history; forty years after it had been enunciated” (i.e., allegedly up to the appearance of Morgan’s book) “ancient Greek and German history remained an unsolved problem.” [74] This irony is only founded on a “misunderstanding.”

That the class struggle underlay Greek and Roman history could not but be known to Marx and Engels at the end of the 40s, if only for the simple reason that it had already been known to the Greek and Roman writers. Read Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, read the Roman historians, even though it be Livy, who in his description of events too often passes, by the way, to a “subjective” point of view – and in each of them you will find the firm conviction that economic relations, and the struggle of classes which they aroused, were the foundation of the internal history of the societies of that day. This conviction took in them the direct form of the simple recording of a simple, well-known everyday fact: although in Polybius there is already something in the nature of a philosophy of history, based on recognition of this fact. However that may be, the fact was recognized by all, and does Mr. Mikhailovsky really think that Marx and Engels “had not read the ancients”? What remained unsolved problems for Marx and Engels, as for all men of learning, were questions concerning the forms of prehistoric life in Greece and Rome and among the German tribes (as Mr. Mikhailovsky himself says elsewhere). These were the questions answered by Morgan’s book. But does our author by any chance imagine that no unsolved questions in biology existed for Darwin at the time he wrote his famous book?

“The category of necessity,” continues Mr. Mikhailovsky, “is so universal and unchallengeable that it embraces even the most fantastic hopes and the most senseless apprehensions, with which it apparently has been called upon to fight. From its point of view, the hope of breaking through a wall by striking it with one’s forehead is not stupidity but necessity, just as Quasimodo was not a hunch-back but necessity, Cain and Judas were not evil-doers but necessity. In brief, if we are guided in practical life only by necessity, we come into some fantastic, boundless expanse where there are no ideas and things, no phenomena, but only inconspicuous shadows of ideas and things.” [75]

Just so, Mr. Mikhailovsky: even deformities of all kinds represent just as much a product of necessity as the most normal phenomena, although it does not at all follow from this that Judas was not a criminal, since it is absurd to contrast the conception of “criminal” with the conception of “necessity.” But if, my dear sir, you are aspiring to the rank of hero (and every subjective thinker is a hero, so to speak, by profession), then try and prove that you are not a “mad” hero, that your “hopes” are not “fantastic,” that your “apprehensions” are not “senseless,” that you are not a “Quasimodo” in thought, that you are not inviting the crowd to “break through a wall with its forehead.” In order to prove all this, you should have to turn to the category of necessity: but you don’t know how to operate with it, your subjective point of view excludes the very possibility of such operations. Thanks to this “category,” reality for you becomes the kingdom of shadows. Now that’s just where you get into your blind alley, it’s at this point you sign the testimonium paupertatis for your “sociology,” it’s just here that you begin asserting that the “category of necessity” proves nothing, because allegedly it proves too much. A certificate of theoretical poverty is the only document with which you supply your followers, searching for higher things. It’s not very much, Mr. Mikhailovsky!

A tom-tit asserts that it is a heroic bird and, in that capacity, it would think nothing of setting fire to the sea. [49*] When it is invited to explain on what physical or chemical laws is founded its plan for setting fire to the sea, it finds itself in difficulties and, in order to get out of them somehow, begins muttering in a melancholy and scarcely audible whisper that “laws” is only a manner of speaking, but in reality laws explain nothing, and one can’t found any plans on them; that one must hope for a lucky accident, since it has long been known that at a pinch you can shoot with a stick too; but that generally speaking la raison finit toujours par avoir raison. What a thoughtless and unpleasant bird!

Let us compare with this indistinct muttering of the tom-tit the courageous, astonishingly harmonious, historical philosophy of Marx.

Our anthropoid ancestors, like all other animals, were in complete subjection to nature. All their development was that completely unconscious development which was conditioned by adaptation to their environment, by means of natural selection in the struggle for existence. This was the dark kingdom of physical necessity. At that time even the dawn of consciousness, and therefore of freedom, was not breaking. But physical necessity brought man to a stage of development at which he began, little by little, to separate himself from the remaining animal world. He became a tool-making animal. The tool is an organ with the help of which man acts on nature to achieve his ends. It is an organ which subjects necessity to the human consciousness, although at first only to a very weak degree, by fits and starts, if one can put it that way. The degree of development of the productive forces determines the measure of the authority of man over nature.

The development of the productive forces is itself determined by the qualities of the geographical environment surrounding man. In this way nature itself gives man the means for its own subjection.

But man is not struggling with nature individually: the struggle with her is carried on, in the expression of Marx, by social man (der Gesellschaftsmensch), i.e., a more or less considerable social union. The characteristics of social man are determined at every given time by the degree of development of the productive forces, be-cause on the degree of the development of those forces depends the entire structure of the social union. Thus, this structure is determined in the long run by the characteristics of the geographical environment, which affords men a greater or lesser possibility of developing their productive forces. But once definite social relations have arisen, their further development takes place according to its own inner laws, the operation of which accelerates or retards the development of the productive forces which conditions the historical progress of man. The dependence of man on his geographical environment is transformed from direct to indirect. The geographical environment influences man through the social environment. But thanks to this, the relationship of man with his geographical environment becomes extremely changeable. At every new stage of development of the productive forces it proves to be different from what it was before. The geographical environment influenced the Britons of Caesar’s time quite otherwise than it influences the present inhabitants of Great Britain. That is how modern dialectical materialism resolves the contradictions with which the writers of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century could not cope. [76]

The development of the social environment is subjected to its own laws. This means that its characteristics depend just as little on the will and consciousness of men as the characteristics of the geographical environment. The productive action of man on nature gives rise to a new form of dependence of man, a new variety of his slavery: economic necessity. And the greater grows man’s authority over nature, the more his productive forces develop, the more stable becomes this new slavery: with the development of the productive forces the mutual relations of men in the social process of production become more complex; the course of that process completely slips from under their control, the producer proves to be the slave of his own creation (as an example, the capitalist anarchy of production).

But just as the nature surrounding man itself gave him the first opportunity to develop his productive forces and, consequently, gradually to emancipate himself from nature’s yoke – so the relations of production, social relations, by the very logic of their development bring man to realization of the causes of his enslavement by economic necessity. This provides the opportunity for a new and final triumph of consciousness over necessity, of reason over blind law.

Having realized that the cause of his enslavement by his own creation lies in the anarchy of production the producer (“social man”) organizes that production and thereby subjects it to his will. Then terminates the kingdom of necessity, and there begins the reign of freedom, which itself proves to be necessity. The prologue of human history has been played out, history begins. [77]

Thus dialectical materialism not only does not strive, as its opponents attribute to it, to convince man that it is absurd to revolt against economic necessity, but it is the first to point out how to overcome the latter. Thus is eliminated the inevitably fatalist character inherent in metaphysical materialism. And in exactly the same way is eliminated every foundation for that pessimism to which, as we saw, consistent idealist thinking leads of necessity. The individual personality is only foam on the crest of the wave, men are subjected to an iron law which can only be discovered, but which cannot be subjected to the human will, said Georg Büchner. No, replies Marx: once we have discovered that iron law, it depends on us to overthrow its yoke, it depends on us to make necessity the obedient slave of reason.

I am a worm, says the idealist. I am a worm while I am ignorant, retorts the dialectical materialist: but I am a god when I know. Tantum possumus, quantum scimus (we can do as much as we know)!

And it is against this theory, which for the first time established the rights of human reason on firm foundations, which was the first that began examining reason, not as the impotent plaything of accident but as a great and invincible force, that they revolt – in the name of the rights of that same reason which it is alleged to be treading underfoot, in the name of ideals which it is alleged to despise! And this theory they dare to accuse of quietism, of striving to reconcile itself with its environment and almost of ingratiating itself with the environment, as Molchalin [50*] ingratiated himself with all who were superior to him in rank! Truly one may say that here is a case of laying one’s own fault at another man’s door.

Dialectical materialism [78] says that human reason could not be the demiurge of history, because it is itself the product of history. But once that product has. appeared, it must not – and in its nature it cannot – be obedient to the reality handed clown as a heritage by previous history; of necessity it strives to transform that reality after its own likeness and image. Dialectical materialism says, like Goethe’s Faust:

Im Anfang war die Tat!
(In the Beginning was the Deed! – Ed.)

Action (the activity of men in conformity to law in the social process of production) explains to the dialectical materialist the historical development of the reason of social man. [79] It is to action also that is reduced all his practical philosophy. Dialectical materialism is the philosophy of action.

When the subjective thinker says “my ideal,” he thereby says: the triumph of blind necessity. The subjective thinker is unable to found his ideal upon the process of development of reality; and therefore immediately beyond the walls of the tiny little garden of his ideal there begins the boundless field of chance – and consequently, of blind necessity. Dialectical materialism points out the methods with the help of which all that boundless field can be transformed into the flourishing garden of the ideal. It only adds that the means for this transformation are buried in the heart of that same field, that one only must discover them and be able to use them.

Unlike subjectivism, dialectical materialism does not limit the rights of human reason. It knows that the rights of reason are as boundless and unlimited as its powers. It says that all that is reasonable in the human head, i.e., all that represents not an illusion but the true knowledge of reality, will unquestionably pass into that reality, and will unquestionably bring into it its own share of reason.

From this one can see what constitutes, in the opinion of dialectical materialists, the role of the individual in history. Far from reducing the role to zero, they put before the individual a task which – to make use of the customary though incorrect term – one must recognize as completely and exceptionally idealistic. As human reason can triumph over blind necessity only by becoming aware of the latter’s peculiar inner laws, only by beating it with its own strength, the development of knowledge, the development of human consciousness, is the greatest and most noble task of the thinking personality. “Licht, mehr Licht![51*] – that is what is most of all needed.

It has long ago been said that no one kindles a torch in order to leave it under a bushel. So that the dialectical materialist adds that one should not leave the torch in the narrow study of the “intellectual.” So long as there exist “heroes” who imagine that it is sufficient for them to enlighten their own heads to be able to lead the crowd wherever they please, and to mould it, like clay, into anything that comes into their heads, the kingdom of reason remains a pretty phrase or a noble dream. It begins to approach us with seven-league strides only when the “crowd” itself becomes the hero of historical action, and when in it, in that colourless “crowd,” there develops the appropriate consciousness of self. Develop human consciousness, we said. Develop the self-consciousness of the producers, we now add. Subjective philosophy seems to us harmful just because it prevents the intelligentsia from helping in the development of that self-consciousness, opposing heroes to the crowd, and imagining that the crowd is no more than a totality of ciphers, the significance of which depends only on the ideals of the hero who gives them the lead.

If there’s only a marsh, there’ll be devils enough, says the popular proverb in its coarse way. If there are only heroes, there’ll be a crowd for them, say the subjectivists; and these heroes are we ourselves, the subjective intelligentsia. To this we reply: your contrasting of heroes to the crowd is mere conceit and therefore self-deception. And you will remain mere ... talkers, until you under-stand that for the triumph of your own ideals you must eliminate the very possibility of such contrasting, you must awaken in the crowd the heroic consciousness of self. [80]

Opinions govern the world, said the French materialists, we are the representatives of opinion, therefore we are the demiurges of history: we are the heroes, and for the crowd it remains only to follow us.

This narrowness of views corresponded to the exceptional position of the French writers of the Enlightenment. They were representatives of the bourgeoisie.

Modern dialectical materialism strives for the elimination of classes. It appeared, in fact, when that elimination became an historical necessity. Therefore it turns to the producers, who are to become the heroes of the historical period lying immediately ahead. Therefore, for the first time since our world has existed and the earth has been revolving around the sun, there is taking place the coming together of science and workers: science hastens to the aid of the toiling mass, and the toiling mass relies on the conclusions of science in its conscious movement.

If all this is no more than metaphysics, we really don’t know what our opponents call metaphysics.

“But all you say refers only to the realm of prophecy. It’s all mere guesswork, which assumes a somewhat systematic form only because of the tricks of Hegelian dialectics. That’s why we call you metaphysicians,” reply the subjectivists.

We have already shown that to drag the “triad” into our dispute is possible only when one has not the least idea of it. We have already shown that with Hegel himself it never played the part of an argument, and that it was not at all a distinguishing feature of his philosophy. We have also shown, we make bold to think, that it is not references to the triad but scientific investigation of the historical process that constitutes the strength of historical materialism. Therefore we might now pay no attention to this retort. But we think it will not be useless for the reader to recall the following interesting fact in the history of Russian literature in the 70s.

When examining Capital, Mr. Y. Zhukovsky [52*] remarked that the author in his guesses, as people now say, relies only on “formal” considerations, and that his line of argument represents only an unconscious play upon notions. This is what the late N. Sieber replied to this charge:

“We remain convinced that the investigation of the material problem everywhere in Marx precedes the formal side of his work. We believe that, if Mr. Zhukovsky had read Marx’s book more attentively and more dispassionately, he would himself have agreed with us in this. He would then undoubtedly have seen that it is precisely by investigating the material conditions of the period of capitalist development in which we are living that the author of Capital proves that mankind sets itself only such tasks as it can solve. Marx step by step leads his readers through the labyrinth of capitalist production and, analyzing all its component elements, makes us understand its provisional character.” [81]

“Let us take ... factory industry,” continues N. Sieber, “with its uninterrupted changing from hand to hand at every operation, with its feverish motion which throws workmen almost every day from one factory to another. Do not its material conditions represent a preparatory environment for new forms of social order, of social co-operation? Does not the operation of periodically repeated economic crises move in the same direction? Is it not to the same end that the narrowing of markets, the reduction of the working day, the rivalry of various countries in the general market, and the victory of large-scale capital over capital of insignificant dimensions tend? ...”

Pointing out also the incredibly rapid growth of the productive forces in the process of development of capitalism, N. Sieber again asks:

“Or are all these not material, but purely formal transformations? ... Is not a real contradiction of capitalist production, for example, the circumstance that periodically it floods the world market with goods, and forces millions to starve at a time when there are too many articles of consumption? ... Is it not a real contradiction of capitalism, furthermore – one which, be it said in passing, the owners of capital themselves willingly admit – that it sets free a great number from work and at the same time complains of lack of working hands? Is it not a real contradiction that the means for reducing physical labour, such as mechanical and other improvements and betterments, are transformed by it into means for lengthening the working day? Is it not a real contra-diction that, while proclaiming the inviolability of property, capitalism deprives the majority of the peasants of land, and keeps the vast majority of the population on a mere pittance? Is all this, and much else, mere metaphysics, non-existent in reality? But it is sufficient to take up any issue of the English Economist to become immediately convinced of the contrary. And so the investigator of present social and economic conditions does not have artificially to adapt capitalist production to preconceived formal and dialectical contradictions: he has more than enough real contradictions to last him his lifetime.”

Sieber’s reply, convincing in its content, was mild in its form. Very different was the character of the reply to the same Mr. Zhukovsky which followed from Mr. Mikhailovsky.

Our worthy subjectivist even up to the present day understands the work, which he then defended, extremely “narrowly,” not to say one-sidedly, and even tries to convince others that his one-sided understanding is the proper assessment of the book. Naturally, such a person could not be a reliable defender of Capital; and his reply was therefore filled with the most childish curiosities. Here, for example, is one of them. The charge against Marx of formalism and of abusing Hegelian dialectics was supported by Mr. Zhukovsky with a quotation, among other things, from a passage in the preface to The Critique of Political Economy. Mr. Mikhailovsky found that Marx’s opponent “rightly saw a reflection of Hegelian philosophy” in this preface, and that “if Marx had only written this preface to the Critique, Mr. Zhukovsky would have been quite right,” [82] i.e., it would have been proved that Marx was only a formalist and Hegelian. Here Mr. Mikhailovsky so successfully missed the mark, and to such a degree “exhausted” the act of missing the mark, that willy-nilly one asks oneself, had our then hopeful young author read the preface he was quoting? [83] One might refer to several other similar curiosities (one of them will be mentioned later on): but they are not the question at issue here. However badly Mr. Mikhailovsky understood Marx, he nevertheless saw immediately that Mr. Zhukovsky had “talked nonsense” about “formalism”; and had nevertheless realized that such nonsense is the simple product of unceremoniousness.

“If Marx had said,” Mr. Mikhailovsky justly observed, “that the law of development of modern society is such that itself it spontaneously negates its previous condition, and then negates this negation, reconciling the contradictions of the stages gone through in the unity of individual and communal property: if he had said this and only this (albeit in many pages), he would have been a pure Hegelian, building laws out of the depths of his spirit, and resting on principles that were purely formal, i.e., independent of content. But everyone who has read Capital knows that he said more than this:”

In the words of Mr. Mikhailovsky, the Hegelian formula can just as easily be removed from the economic content allegedly forced into it by Marx as a glove from the hand or a hat from the head.

“Regarding the stages of economic development passed through there can be hardly any doubts ... Just as indubitable is the further course of the process: the concentration of the means of production more and more in a smaller number of hands. As regards the future there can, of course, be doubts. Marx considers that as the concentration of capital is accompanied by the socialization of labour, the latter is what will constitute the economic and moral basis” (how can socialization of labour “constitute” the moral basis? And what about the “self-development of forms”? – G.P.) “on which the new legal and political order will grow up. Mr. Zhukovsky was fully entitled to call this guesswork, but had no right (moral right, of course – G.P.) to pass by in complete silence the significance which Marx attributes to the process of socialization.” [84]

“The whole of Capital,” Mr. Mikhailovsky rightly remarks, “is devoted to the study of how a social form, once it has arisen, constantly develops, intensifies its typical features, subordinating to itself and assimilating” (?) “discoveries, inventions, improvements in the means of production, new markets, science itself, forcing them to work for it, and how finally the given form becomes incapable of withstanding further changes of the material conditions.” [85]

With Marx “it is precisely the analysis of the relations between the social form” (i.e., of capitalism, Mr. Mikhailovsky, isn’t that so? – G.P.) “and the material conditions of its existence” (i.e., the productive forces which make the existence of the capitalist form of production more and more unstable, isn’t that so, Mr. Mikhailovsky? – G.P.) “that will always remain a monument of the logical system and vast erudition of the author. Mr. Zhukovsky has the moral courage to assert that this is the question which Marx evades. There’s nothing more one can do here. It remains only to watch with amazement the further puzzling exercises of the critic, performing his somersaults for the amusement of the public, part of which undoubtedly will understand at once that a courageous acrobat is performing before it, while another part may perchance attribute quite a different meaning to this amazing spectacle.” [86]

Summa summarum: if Mr. Zhukovsky accused Marx of formalism, this charge, in the words of Mr. Mikhailovsky, represented “one big lie composed of a number of little lies.”

Severe is the sentence, but absolutely just. And if it was just in respect of Zhukovsky, it is just also in relation to all those who now repeat that the “guesses” of Marx are based only on the Hegelian triad. And if that sentence is just in respect of all such people, then ... have the goodness to read the following extract:

“He [Marx] to such an extent filled the empty dialectical scheme with a content of fact that it could be removed from that content, as a cover from a cup, without changing anything, without damaging anything except for one point – true, of vast importance. Namely, regarding the future, the ‘immanent’ laws of society are formulated only dialectically. For the orthodox Hegelian it is sufficient to say that ‘negation’ must be followed by the ‘negation of the negation’; but those who are not privy to the Hegelian wisdom cannot he satisfied with that, for them a dialectical deduction is not a proof, and a non-Hegelian who has believed it must know that he has only believed it, not been convinced by it.” [87]

Mr. Mikhailovsky has pronounced his own sentence.

Mr. Mikhailovsky knows himself that he is now repeating the words of Mr. Y. Zhukovsky regarding the “formal character” of Marx’s arguments in favour of his “guesses.” He has not forgotten his article Karl Marx Before the Judgement of Mr. Y. Zhukovsky, and even fears lest his reader might recall it at some untimely moment. Therefore he begins by making it appear that he is saying the same now as he said in the 70s. With this object he repeats that the “dialectical scheme” may be removed “like a cover,” etc. Then there follows “only one point” in relation to which Mr. Mikhailovsky, unbeknown to his reader, is completely at one with Mr. Y. Zhukovsky. But this “one point” is that same point of “vast importance” which served as a pretext for exposing Mr. Zhukovsky as an “acrobat.”

In 1877 Mr. Mikhailovsky said that Marx in relation to the future also, i.e., precisely in relation to “one point of vast importance,” did not confine himself to a reference to Hegel. Now it appears from Mr. Mikhailovsky that he did so confine himself. In 1877 Mr. Mikhailovsky said that Marx with astonishing “logical force,” with “vast erudition,” demonstrated how the “given form” (i.e., capitalism) “becomes incapable of withstanding” further changes in the “material conditions” of its existence. That referred precisely to “one point of vast importance.” Now Mr. Mikhailovsky has forgotten how much that was convincing Marx had said about this point, and how much logical strength and vast erudition he had displayed in doing so. In 1877 Mr. Mikhailovsky wondered at the “moral courage” with which Mr. Zhukovsky had passed over in silence the fact that Marx, in confirmation of his guesses, had referred to the socialization of labour which was already taking place in capitalist society. This also had reference to “one point of vast importance.” At the present day Mr. Mikhailovsky assures his readers that Marx on this point is guessing “purely dialectically.” In 1877 “everyone who has read Capital” knew that Marx “said more than this.” Now it turns out that he said “only this,” and that the conviction of his followers as to the future “holds exclusively by the end of a Hegelian three-tailed chain.” [88] What a turn, with God’s help!

Mr. Mikhailovsky has pronounced his own sentence, and knows that he has pronounced it.

But what made Mr. Mikhailovsky bring himself under the operation of the ruthless sentence he himself had pronounced? Did this man who so passionately, once upon a time, exposed literary “acrobats,” in his old age himself feel an inclination to “the acrobatic art”? Are such transformations really possible? All transformations are possible, oh reader! And people with whom such transformations occur are worthy of every condemnation. It is not we who will justify them. But even they should be treated as human creatures, as people say. Remember the profoundly humane words of the author of the Comments on Mill: when a man behaves badly, it is often not so much his fault as his misfortune. Remember what the same author said about the literary activity of N.A. Polevoi [53*]:

“N.A. Polevoi was a follower of Cousin, whom he considered to be the solver of all riddles and the greatest philosopher in the world ... The follower of Cousin could not reconcile himself to the Hegelian philosophy, and when the Hegelian philosophy penetrated into Russian literature, the pupils of Cousin turned out to be backward people; and there was nothing morally criminal on their part in the fact that they defended their convictions, and called stupid that which was said by people who had out-distanced them in intellectual progress. One cannot accuse a man because others, gifted with fresher forces and greater resolution, have outpaced him. They are right because they are nearer to the truth, but it is not his fault: he is only mistaken.” [89]

Mr. Mikhailovsky all his life has been an eclectic. He could not reconcile himself to the historical philosophy of Marx by the very make-up of his mind, by the whole character of his previous philosophical education if one can use such an expression in connection with Mr. Mikhailovsky. When the ideas of Marx began to penetrate into Russia, he tried at first to defend them, and even then did not do so, naturally, without numerous reservations and very considerable “failures to understand.” He thought then that he would be able to grind down these ideas, too, in his eclectical mill, and thereby introduce still greater variety into his intellectual diet. Then he saw that the ideas of Marx are not at all suitable as decorations for those mosaics which are called world outlook in the case of eclectics, and that their diffusion threatens to destroy the mosaics he loves so well. So he declared war against these ideas. Of course he immediately turned out to be lagging behind intellectual progress: but really it seems to us that it is not his fault, that lie is only making a mistake.

“But then all that does not justify ‘acrobatics’!”

And we are not attempting to justify them: we are only pointing out extenuating circumstances. Quite without noticing it, Mr. Mikhailovsky, owing to the development of Russian social thought, has fallen into a state from which one can only get out by means of “acrobatics.” There is, true, another way out, but only a man filled with genuine heroism would choose it. That way out is to lay down the arms of eclecticism.


66. “Alle diese verschiedenen Zweige der Entwickelungsgeschichte, die jetzt noch teilweise weit auseinanderliegen und die von den verschiedensten empirischen Erkenntnissquellen ausgegangen sind, werden von jetzt an mit dem steigenden Bewusstsein ihres einheitlichen Zusammenhanges sich höher entwickeln. Auf den verschiedensten empirischen Wegen wandelnd und mit den mannigfaltigsten Methoden arbeitend werden sie doch alle auf ein und dasselbe Ziel hinstreben, auf das grosse Endziel einer universalen monistischen Entwickelungsgeschichte” (E. Haeckel, Ziele und Wege der heutigen Entwickelungsgeschichte, Jena 1875, p.96). (“All these different branches of the history of evolution, which now to some extent lie widely scattered, and which have proceeded from the most varied empirical sources of knowledge, will from now onward develop with the growing consciousness of their inter-dependence. Walking along different empirical paths, and working with manifold methods, they will nevertheless all strive towards the same goal, that great final goal of a universal monist history of evolution.” – Ed.)

67. Russkoye Bogatstvo, January 1894, Part II, pp.105-06.

68. It is interesting that the opponents of Darwin long asserted, and even up to the present day have not stopped asserting, that what’s lacking in his theory is precisely a “Mont Blanc” of factual proofs. As is well known, Virchow spoke in this sense at the Congress of German Naturalists and Doctors at Munich in September 1877. Replying to him, Haeckel justly remarked that, if Darwin’s theory has not been proved by the facts which we know already, no new facts will say anything in its favour.

69. Russkoye Bogatstvo, January 1894, Part II, pp.115-16.

70. See his book, Du droit de propriété à Sparte. We are not at all concerned here with the view of the history of primitive property which it contains.

71. “Il est asset visible pour quiconque a observé le détail (precisely le détail, Mr. Mikhailovsky) et les textes, que ce sont les intérêts matériels du plus grand nombre qui en ont été le vrai mobile,” etc. (Histoire des institutions politiques de l’ancienne France. Les origines du système féodal, Paris 1890, p.94.) [“It is sufficiently visible for anyone who has observed the details (precisely “the details,” Mr. Mikhailovsky) and the texts, that it is the material interests of the greatest number which were its true motive force,” etc. – Ed.]

72. Russkoye Bogatstvo, January 1894, Part II, p.117.

73. As for the application of biology to the solution of social problems, Mr. Mikhailovsky’s “discoveries” date, as we have seen, in their “nature” from the 20s of the present century. Very respectable ancients are the “discoveries” of Mr. Mikhailovsky! In them the “Russian mind and Russian soul” truly “repeats old stuff and lies for two.” [46*]

74. Russkoye Bogatstvo, January 1894, Part II, p.108.

75. Ibid., pp.113-14.

76. Montesquieu said: once the geographical environment is given, the characteristics of the social union are also given. In one geographical environment only despotism can exist, in another – only small independent republican societies, etc. No, replied Voltaire: in one and the same geographical environment there appear in the course of time various social relations, and consequently geographical environment has no influence on the historical fate of man-kind. It is all a question of the opinions of men. Montesquieu saw one side of the antinomy, Voltaire and his supporters another: the antinomy was usually resolved only with the help of interaction. Dialectical materialism recognizes, as we see, the existence of interaction, but explains it by pointing to the development of the productive forces. The antinomy which the writers of the Enlightenment could at best only hide away in their pockets, is resolved very simply, Dialectical reason, here too, proves infinitely stronger than the common sense (“reason”) of the writers of the Enlightenment.

77. After all that has been said it will be clear, we hope, what is the relation between the teaching of Marx and the teaching of Darwin. Darwin succeeded in solving the problem of how there originate vegetable and animal species in the struggle for existence. Marx succeeded in solving the problem of how there arise different types of social organization in the struggle of men for their existence. Logically, the investigation of Marx begins precisely where the investigation of Darwin ends. Animals and vegetables are under the influence of their physical environment acts on social man through those social relations which arise on the basis of the productive forces, which at first develop more or less quickly according to the characteristics of the physical environment. Darwin explains the origin of species not by an allegedly innate tendency to develop in the animal organism, as Lamarck did, but by the adaptation of the organism to the conditions existing outside it: not by the organism but by the influence of external nature. Marx explains the historical development of man not by the nature of man, but by the characteristics of those social relations between men which arise when social man is acting on external nature. The spirit of their research is absolutely the same in both thinkers. That is why one can say that Marxism is Darwinism in its application to social science (we know that chronologically this is not so, but that is unimportant). And that is its only scientific application; because the conclusions which were drawn from Darwinism by some bourgeois writers were not its scientific application to the study of the development of social man, but a mere bourgeois utopia, a moral sermon with a very ugly content, just as the subjectivists engage in sermons with a beautiful content. The bourgeois writers, when referring to Darwin, were in reality recommending to their readers not the scientific method of Darwin, but only the bestial instincts of those animals about whom Darwin wrote. Marx forgathers with Darwin: the bourgeois writers forgather with the beasts and cattle which Darwin studied.

78. We use the term “dialectical materialism” because it alone can give an accurate description of the philosophy of Marx. Holbach and Helvetius were metaphysical materialists. They fought against metaphysical idealism. Their materialism gave way to dialectical idealism, which in its turn was overcome by dialectical materialism. The expression “economic materialism” is extremely inappropriate. Marx never called himself an economic materialist.

79. “Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol.II, Moscow 1955, p.404.)

80. “Mit der Gründlichkeit der geschichtlichen Action wird der Umfang der Masse zunehmen, deren Action sie ist.” Marx, Die heilige Familie, p.120. (“Together with the thoroughness of the historical action will grow the volume of the mass whose action it is.” – Ed.)

81. N. Sieber, Some Remarks on the Article of Mr. Y. Zhukovsky Karl Marx and His Book on Capital (Otechestvenniye Zapiski, November 1877, p.6).

82. N.K. Mikhailovsky, Works, Vol.II, p.356

83. In this passage Marx sets forth his materialist conception. of history.

84. N.K. Mikhailovsky, Works, Vol.II, pp.353-54.

85. Ibid., p.357.

86. Ibid., pp.357-58.

87. Russkoye Bogatstvo, February 1894, Part II, pp.150-51.

88. Ibid., p.166.

89. Sketches of the Gogol Period in Russian Literature, St. Petersburg 1892, pp. 24-25. (The author in question is N.G. Chernyshevsky. – Ed.)



Editorial Notes

36*. Lewes, George Henry (1817-1878), English bourgeois philosopher, positivist, physiologist.

37*. The reference is to Communist Manifesto by K. Marx and F. Engels.

38*. In unpublished additions Plekhanov makes the following comment on this passage: “They did not understand that it is impossible to admit Marx’s economic views and to reject his historical views: Capital is also a historical study. But Capital has been badly understood by many ‘Marxists’ too. The fate of Volume Three was that Struve, Bulgakov and Tugan-Baranovsky distorted Marx’s economic theories.” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, p.223.)

39*. This refers to the famous letter Marx wrote to the editors of Otechestvenniye Zapiski at the end of 1877 about an article by one of the editors of the magazine, N.K. Mikhailovsky, Karl Marx Before the Judgement of Mr. Zhukovsky (Otechestvenniye Zapiski, 1877, No.10). The letter was not sent and was found by Engels in Marx’s papers after his death.It was published in Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, 1886, No.5 and in the legal Yuridichseky Vestnik, 1888, No.10. The letter is usually wrongly called the letter to Mikhailovsky, although in it Marx only speaks of Mikhailovksy in the third person. (Cf. Correspondence of K. Marx and F. Engels with Russian Political Figures, Gospolitizdat Publishing House, 1951, pp.220-23.)

In his letter Marx protests against the distortion of his views, against the desire to turn his “historical sketch of the rise of capitalism in Western Europe into a historico-philosophical theory of the universal way which all peoples are fatally destined to follow, whatever historical circumstances they may find themselves in ...” It was this passage in the letter that the narodniks seized upon, interpreting it as a justification for their hopes of a peculiar way of development for Russia. (Cf. N.K. Mikhailovsky, Collected Works, Vol.VII, St. Petersburg 1909, p.327.)

40*. Marx speaks of the French Mmaterialists of the 18th century in The Holy Family, in the section Critical Battle Against French Materialism of the chapter Absolute Criticism’s Third Campaign, see also in German Ideology.

41*. In 1892 Mikhailovsky wrote in Russkaya Mysl, No.6, p.90, that Marx’s philosophical theory is “expounded in the sixth chapter of Capital under the modest title So-Called Primitive Accumulation.” (Cf. N.K. Mikhailovsky, Collected Works, Vol.VII, St. Petersburg 1909, p.321.)

42*. From the Russian soldiers’ song which derided Russian incapable generals (General read among them) during the Crimean war (1853-56). the author of the song is Lev Tolstoi, then an officer in the field.

43*. The reference is to Wilhelm Blos’s book Die deutsche Revolution. Geschichte der deutschen Bewegung von 1848 und 1849, Berlin 1923.

44*. In Gleb Uspensky’s tale The Sentry Post, an old man whose job is to supply a small wandering orchestra with strings proudly says that his strings are dear, “they are not any old trash,” because he cannot have it any other way. “If I can breathe only with the string” (if my only means of living is by a string), “I must see that it has a full sound.”.

45*. Characterizing Balzac’s work in a letter to Margaret Harkness at the beginning of April 1888, Engels wrote that from Balzac’s novels he “even in economic details ... learned more than from all professed historians, economists and statisticians of the period together.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, p.480.

This passage is commented as follows by Plekhanov: “Mr. Uspensky may fearlessly be placed on a level with Balzac in this respect. His The Power of the Land. see my article G.I. Uspensky in the collection Sotsial Demokrat.” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, p.224.) In Plekhanov’s Works his article on Uspensky is in Vol.X.

46*. The quoted words are from Pushkin’s draft copy of one of the chapters in Eugene Onegin.

47*. Morgan’s book was published in 1877.

48*. Engels speaks of this in the preface to his book Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, dated February 21, 1888. Cf. K. Marx and F. Engles, Selected Works, Vol.II, Moscow 1958, p.359.

49*. From I.A. Krylov’s fable Tom-tit.

50*. Another character in Griboyedov’s Wit Works Woe, a careerist and toady.

51*. Goethe’s last words.

52*. Y. Zhukovsky analyzes Capital in his article Karl Marx and His Book on Capital (Vestnik Yevropy, 1877, Vol.9).

53*. Polevoi, Nikolai Alexeyevich (1796-1846) – Russian journalist, writer and historian, one of the first bourgeois ideologists in Russia of the 1820s and 1830s, later reactionary.


Last updated on 28.12.2004